Belleau Wood

The Battle of Belleau Wood began on June 1st, 1918 when five German divisions under the command of the Crown Prince Wilhelm smashed into French lines at the Belleau Wood.  Belleau Wood is located only 30 miles northeast of Paris, and was a tree sanctuary prior to the outbreak of World War 1.  The Battle of Belleau Wood began as part of the larger German Spring Offensive.  This offensive’s goal was to defeat the British at the Somme and to force the French into an armistice before the full military and manpower might of the US could be brought into the war.  As German troops moved into Belleau Wood, the US Second Division was brought into action to plug a hole left by a shattered French line.  The Second Division was led by General of the Armies John J. Pershing and Brigadier General James Harbord.  Harbord, despite being an Army Officer, was the direct commander of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 5th Marine Regiment.  These units would distinguish themselves in the battle, and were ultimately responsible for establishing the lore and ethos of the Marine Corps as it exists today.  Prior to the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Marine Corps was an untested force against a modern contemporary military force.  The Marines rushed into machine gun fire and would often engage the German troops armed with only bayonets or shovels.  Many companies would lose all senior officers over the course of the nearly month long battle, with noncommissioned officers and junior officers taking command.  The woods would change hands nearly six times, a testimony to the Marines tenacity in the face of a vastly more experienced force.  One of the more notable examples of the Marines bravery was the taking of Hill 142.  On June 6th, the Marines had to take a hill to prevent flanking fire from destroying a French advance into the wood.  Marines advanced through wheat fields under heavy machine gun fire.  By the middle of the day, Hill 142 was captured at the cost of nearly the entire 1st Battalion.  By the end of the battle, on June 26th, the US had 9,777 casualties with 1811 deaths.  German casualties are unknown.  The Battle of Belleau Wood helped prevent the Germans from winning the war, and lead to the German surrender on November 11th.

Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps by Alan Axelrod

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